How are security clearances granted? Why does the Government grant them? How does the Government assign classification levels? Who is eligible? First of all, classified information must be protected. Part of the protection is to ensure only properly investigated and vetted cleared employees with need to know get access granted.
According to the latest Executive Order, employees should not be granted access to classified information unless they possess a security clearance, have a need to know to get it, received an initial security briefing and have signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Some clarifications should be made concerning who actually gets them. Those granted include the businesses and their employees. Defense contractor are business entities and employees are the people who work there. When a defense contractor gets granted access to classified information, they are then called Cleared Defense Contractors (CDC). Once they have their clearance, then the employees will go through the process to become cleared employees.
The Personnel security Clearance (PCL) is related to a Facility security Clearance (FCL) held by the cleared contractor they work for. Respectively, the defense contractor businesses are required to have a FCL prior to performing on classified contracts. What does this mean? It means the cleared contractor and cleared employee has been thoroughly investigated and properly vetted before even being considered eligible to receive classified information. The need to know aspect further defines which classified information is provided based on criteria such as contract or work requirements. The point is not anyone with a clearance gets access to classified information. It’s based on clearance level and their need to know.
Additionally, not anyone can just apply; it’s based on a classified contract. The company must be sponsored for a clearance by a Prime Contractor or Government Contracting Activity (GCA). The FCLs are granted to defense contractor facilities and PCLs are awarded to their employees; both granted only after an investigation and adjudication. Therefore, think of the process as the administrative determination that an entity and person is eligible from a national security basis for access to classified information.
There are several steps involved and for this article, we’ve listed them below:
- Registering as a defense contractor
- Getting sponsorship of facility security clearance
- Requesting personnel security clearances
- Appointing required employee positions
- Following guidance in the NISPOM and how to protect classified information.
After the security clearance is granted, the CDC has some additional work to do to prepare for classified contracts. For example, once a facility clearance is granted, a Facility Security Officer (FSO) must be appointed to manage the security of classified contracts.